Children and Women First
One of the biggest factors limiting progress toward the Millennium Development Goal of cutting hunger in half by 2015 is prevalent child malnutrition, according to the 2010 Global Hunger Index.
Released in October by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in conjunction with Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide, the report assesses the state of world hunger, identifies the countries and regions where hunger and malnutrition are most severe and draws attention to those who are most vulnerable: infants and young children.
Child malnutrition is not spread evenly across the globe. More than 90 percent of the world’s children who are short for their age live in Africa, where the rate of stunting is 40 percent, and Asia, where it is 36 percent. Not surprisingly, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia also have the highest regional scores on the Global Hunger Index, meaning they suffer the greatest hunger.
Since child undernutrition is the biggest contributor to the global score, governments need to make nutrition a political and investment priority, focusing particularly on pregnant and breastfeeding women and children in their first 2 years of life. Providing these groups with universal preventive health services and nutrition interventions could cut undernutrition by 25-36 percent.
Addressing the underlying causes of malnutrition, including poverty, food insecurity, lack of education, conflict and gender inequality, is also critical for success. According to IFPRI research, women’s status significantly affects child nutrition. In South Asia alone, equalizing men’s and women’s status would reduce the number of malnourished children by 13.4 million.
With only 5 years left to 2015, the international community and individual countries have to redouble their efforts if the Millennium Development Goal target of halving hunger is to be met. Focusing priorities and resources on eradicating child malnutrition may well be the best bet.